Thoughts about July 4, 1776
The Declaration of Independence has always had a special importance in our family because one of our ancestors was among the 56 who signed it. In anticipation of this year’s Fourth, I recently re-read Nathaniel Philbrick’s Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution and Joseph Ellis’ Revolutionary Summer: The Birth of American Independence. As we again celebrate Independence Day, these are some of historians’ key points to keep in mind:
o Had the colonial troops been defeated, the Declaration would have been a death warrant for those who signed it…and they knew that when they signed it.
o General Washington and his “citizen soldiers” defeated what was then considered the greatest military force in the world on both land and at sea.
o About 60% of the adults in the 13 colonies were Royalists.
o Thomas Jefferson was the primary author of the Declaration and previously spoke for many colonials when observing, “Believe me, dear Sir: there is not in the British empire a man who more cordially loves a union with Great Britain than I do. But, by the God that made me, I will cease to exist before I yield to a connection on such terms as the British Parliament propose; and in this, I think I speak the sentiments of America.” (November 29, 1775)
o Most authorities seem to agree that the “enemy” was not King George III; rather, monarchy as a form of government in combination with a Draconian parliament and taxation without representation.
o The influence of the greatest thinkers of the European Enlightenment or Age of Reason cannot be exaggerated, notably Jean Jacques Rousseau, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Baron de Montesquieu.
o Boston was the gravitational center of the revolutionary spirit (Sam Adams) whereas Virginia provided the philosophical and military leadership (Jefferson and Washington, respectively).
o For eminently sensible reasons, most leaders from other states were reluctant to go to war with England. Ratification eventually passed by a single vote, cast by Caesar Rodney of Delaware.